Determining your research interest and approaching a knowledgeable research supervisor is an important step for the creation of a project which can have a great impact on your research journey.
Steps to Picking a Research Supervisor
Getting involved in research is undoubtedly a great idea; you will get hands-on experience, you will get to work closely with an experienced supervisor, and you will get to boost your resume to stand out as a candidate when applying for a job! To get the most out of your research experience, you should find an area of research that interests you, find a supervisor that you believe you will work well with, and familiarize yourself with the nature of conducting research as a student.
1. Find an Area of Interest
The more interest you have in your area of research, the easier it will be to research it. Therefore, it is imperative to pick a topic of interest that intrigues you. When trying to narrow down what topic interests you the most, it is helpful if you examine what you aim to achieve and what you would like to contribute to that field (Jafree et al., 2016).
2. Choose a Supervisor
After choosing an area of research that interests you, you should start investigating who the scholars in that field are and if they are looking to mentor students. Selecting a suitable supervisor is critical because your relationship with your supervisor will determine many things, including completing your research project successfully.
You and your supervisor must share similar research interests. Most research supervisors have a website, which should include a thorough description of their research and their interests, the people that work in their lab, their credentials, and selected publications; some researchers even include information about how to join their lab. To learn more about any potential research supervisor, it is recommended that you go through their website and read some of their published work to make sure that your interests match and that you would be a good fit in their lab.
If you need more information about what it is like to be a student researcher in a particular lab, you can contact students who work in that lab to get more information. On most lab websites, there is a tab in which you can find the list of students that work in the lab, along with their contact information. Contacting students in the lab will hopefully give you all the information you need to make a decision.
3. Contact the Potential Supervisor
Now that you have found a supervisor with whom you share similar interests, it is time to contact them to introduce yourself and discuss the possibility of joining their lab. Like any email, your email should contain an introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.
Optional: you can use the tool below to help you draft your email by just answering a few simple questions. At the end you can download it as a word document, which you can use to help you write a great email to your prospective supervisor!
4. Questions to Ask Your Research Supervisor
Once you have found a supervisor who is willing to supervise you, you and your supervisor should plan how you are going to work together and what you should expect from each other. Your supervisor may expect different things from you depending on how much experience you have and your year of study. Also, the level of autonomy you will have while conducting research will vary depending on the supervisor. Some supervisors like to give their students complete freedom, while others like to control many aspects of the research.
Regardless of who your supervisor is and what their preference is for working with students, some key points should be covered during the meeting where you outline how you are going to work together. These topics include:
- The frequency of your meetings (weekly or bi-weekly, etc.)
- Your method of communicating.
- Due dates—talking about due dates is a crucial thing to discuss as there are many due dates for any research project. Ideally, you and your supervisor set due dates together so you are both on the same page.
- How much your supervisor will assist you with writing, data collection, data analysis, etc.
5. Getting Comfortable with Being a Researcher
When you first get involved in research, it can certainly be overwhelming and sometimes scary. There are many things that you can do to help ease the stress that you may experience when you begin participating in research. First, time management is critical. Students already have hectic schedules; therefore, when you start working on your research, you must stay on top of it by managing your time and avoiding procrastination as much as possible. Second, do not be afraid to ask questions. Your supervisor will be more than happy to answer any of your questions because that means you are learning. Also, asking your fellow students in your lab about how they manage their time could be highly beneficial for you. Finally, make sure you have fun and enjoy the work you are doing and remember that over time, you will gain the confidence and skills it takes to become a successful researcher!
Jafree, D. J., Whitehurst, K., & Rajmohan, S. (2016). How to approach supervisors for research opportunities. Annals of medicine and surgery (2012), 10, 110–112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amsu.2016.01.022